How I raised $40K in the first 65 days of the war

The process of sending tactical gear to soldiers in Israel

In the first 65 days of the war in Israel, I raised $40,018 from 256 individual donors.

There was no nonprofit organization behind me. I hadn’t reached out to my synagogue or any larger organizations I was affiliated with to join forces. This was strictly using my own network of friends, family, colleagues and strangers on social media. I was determined to support soldiers who joined the army on October 7th, families of hostages and displaced families from the south. Everything in my life was put on pause and I dedicated every minute to fundraising for Israel. 

On October 7th at 7:04 a.m., I woke up to a WhatsApp message from my next-door neighbor, “Think I just heard the Iron Dome.”

“Same,” I responded, remembering back in April, for the first time in my life, the sound of the bombs being intercepted by the Iron Dome. I’d moved to Tel Aviv in November 2021 after 13 years of extended visits from New York, somehow I’d never experienced bombings in prior years. 

By 11 a.m., my friend arrived at my apartment. Over the next 48 hours, her family members began to arrive at my apartment as it became clear that there would be multiple sirens a day indefinitely and they didn’t have bomb shelters in their homes. We didn’t know if this would go on for days, weeks or months. I started looking into flights to London where I have family and close friends.  

My gut told me to leave my home. I packed for two weeks with the expectation of returning when things were quieter. 

As my friend drove me to the airport, I asked, “What do we do if a siren goes off while we’re on the highway?” He advised me to get out of the car and approach the walls on the side, lie flat and hold my head with my hands. As we approached the security checkpoint to get into the airport, the cars in front of us weren’t moving. We had no idea why. People started getting out of their cars, some with their backpacks and luggage in hand, others with their phone pressed against their ear talking to loved ones. My friend said, “They’re saying there’s something suspicious.” I never wanted to understand Hebrew more in my life than in that moment. 

My heart started racing rapidly as my friend instructed me: “Grab your backpack and your passport and start running.” I grabbed my backpack, held my passport in my left hand, while envisioning a bomb going off and my life ending. I ran without knowing what I was running from. I began to regret leaving my apartment and the safety of the bomb shelter to get on a plane. Was I going to die on my way to the airport fleeing the country? Suddenly someone screamed out “all clear” or something like that in Hebrew. I’m not sure what happened and how it was confirmed that we were safe, but seconds later we were back in the car and whisked through the security checkpoint. 

Once I boarded the plane, I let out a sigh of relief and then uncontrollably cried. I was handed a box of tissues by the flight attendant to soak up my endless tears. At the same time, I saw one of my American Israeli friends’ posts on Instagram that she was collecting money on Venmo to donate.  People were starting to determine what was needed to support the victims, the hostages’ families and the 350,000 reservists who joined the Israel Defense Force (IDF). I decided to jump on the bandwagon and link my Venmo on Instagram. People around the world were reaching out asking how they could help, not knowing who and where to donate and I felt I was able to allocate funds where they could be used wisely. 

The day after arriving in London, my friend, Anat, sent me a voice note from her brother-in-law, Shay, introducing himself and saying he’d love to find a way to collaborate with the funds I was suddenly receiving. We’d waved hello to each other at a wine bar in Tel Aviv earlier in the summer when I was with Anat and that was the extent of our previous interaction. I didn’t even know his name then. 

Once I listened to his voicenote, I stood in Kings Cross dodging commuters during rush hour on the phone with Shay who has been my partner in getting everything the Israeli soldiers need at their bases and in Gaza for the last three months. 

I’d get messages such as:

  • The weather conditions are really bad…do you have funds to get them durable tents?
  • I found a unit that would be very happy to be equipped with special shoes for the war – can we purchase 20 pairs?
  • They’re eating small sandwiches, one meal a day – can we put together a Shabbat dinner for 150 soldiers?

“On it” I’d write back to him on WhatsApp and jump over to my Instagram and post their needs.

* * *

Shortly after 9/11, as a sophomore in high school in Manhattan, with the support of my principal’s assistant, I launched the Community Service Club. The intention of the club was to encourage students to take part in volunteering to build community, give back and enjoy the experience instead of  scrounging to find opportunities to ensure they reached the required 60 hours. 

The Community Service Club would make sandwiches at school and deliver them to local homeless shelters. We’d gather a team together to meet for a health-related organization’s annual walk in Central Park. We brainstormed ways to give back to the community and we enjoyed the process. Suddenly students weren’t counting how many hours of community service they had remaining to do, they were experiencing the impact they were having and wanted to continue. While I wasn’t a great student, I found my calling in supporting others which definitely helped me get into college years later.  

About 10 years ago, I was involved with a nonprofit organization whose mission I was deeply aligned with. I chose to volunteer my time and efforts, and raised over $10,000 for them over a summer from my friends and family. When I approached the organization to better understand exactly where the money would be utilized, I was met with an empty response. I wasn’t given any breakdown of where the money went. I didn’t question if they were doing good work, I’d witnessed that firsthand – but I couldn’t stomach the fact that they were unable to disclose where the money I’d raised from my community would directly go. 

From that day forward, I recognized the importance of transparency. 

Once I posted on Instagram about soldiers’ needs, the money was transferred to me within hours. From friends, family, people who I know through social media and total strangers including a woman on LinkedIn in Kenya who said she found my post through a friend of a friend and wanted to support Israel.

People I hadn’t talked to in years were donating. People I’d refer to as ex-friends. People who I had to Google or check Facebook to confirm who they were. People circled back and donated multiple times. Jews, Israelis and people with no affiliation to the region. My dad emailed 250 people asking for money — something he’d never done in his life. They shared with friends who donated and the money kept coming in. In 65 days we raised $40,018 from 256 individual donors. 

While living in Tel Aviv for just under two years, it was manageable not to speak Hebrew, but navigating the medical system and paying my bills was extremely challenging. I hired Ruchama to help me. 

On October 30th, I received a message from Ruchama that her husband’s base in the army was overflowing (8 beds and 14 soldiers). “I’m trying to buy them a tent, but have no energy to actually fundraise,” she wrote, “I know you’re in touch with various organizations, any chance you can put me in touch with someone?”

She assumed I was working with an organization who had connections to get tactical gear to soldiers when in fact I was working with one individual in Israel and I was handling everything financially and logistically from New York. In under 24-hours, the money was transferred to her account in Israel and she was ordering the tents for her husband and his army base. 

This is the power of storytelling and community. It’s about utilizing your network for good. It’s about asking for help and seeing directly where the money goes. There are so many incredible nonprofits doing work for Israel right now, but I wish more were transparent like this. I wish we knew exactly where every penny was going. 

Social media has allowed me to connect with supporters of Israel and through my efforts I have been able to reach strangers and inform them of what I’m working on and how they can help. 

As Hanukkah approached, my aunt gave me her friend’s niece, Stephanie’s phone number suggesting there may be a way to collaborate with fundraising as she’d already sent over 200 bags of items to soldiers and displaced families through Amazon wishlists on flights from New York to Israel. She and her friends were starting a toy drive to send toys to children in displaced families from the south of Israel. I connected with my American Israeli friend to see about getting a contact at Camp Kimama, in order to donate toys to children currently living in hotels in Israel. Stephanie and I had never met before, but for the month leading up to Hanukkah, we were sending constant text messages navigating the logistics of collecting 500 toys, finding passengers flying to Israel and having someone on the ground at the airport to pick them up to get them to Team Ima and Camp Kimama for distribution. Since December we officially joined forces as 107 PRIME, and have been sending tactical gear for soldiers that can’t be purchased within Israel. 

My last job before starting my business was event production for nonprofits and health and wellness brands. In working with nonprofits such as the Headstrong Project (providing free mental healthcare to war veterans) to the Lower Eastside Girls Club to the David Lynch Foundation and Bent On Learning, I quickly learned how much more willing people were to donate if they knew exactly where their money was going. Instead of blindly sending $100 or $5,000, they knew that the money was being attributed to a very specific initiative or purchase. 

I am writing this because during some of the darkest days of my life, I’ve found purpose. There’s so much value in giving back and feeling like you’re making an impact on people’s lives.

I never thought I’d be purchasing tents, flashlights, goggles, tactical belts and clothing for soldiers in Israel and I’ve never been more proud to do so. These soldiers have left their families, their jobs and their homes to fight for our country — the least we can do is provide them with the gear they need to stay safe and equipped for combat. It’s clear that this war will go on for a long time, and Israel and our soldiers need all the support they can get. 

The most powerful message I’ve received from Shay is that the money we’d provided to soldiers for additional tents and a Shabbat meal, went towards soldiers who escorted the released hostages back to Israel. These are war heroes. People making a difference and keeping our people safe. 

After two months of working together, Stephanie and I finally met in person. Naturally our first stop was dropping off a bag to a volunteer passenger before we headed to dinner.  I’m thrilled that I recently got my synagogue on board to collect tactical gear for soldiers through Eran’s Angels in Tel Aviv and Purim costumes for displaced children in Israel. I’m building new relationships within the Jewish community in New York as well as strengthening my relationships in Israel through our fundraising efforts.  

While my time living in Israel ended quite abruptly, I look forward to the day that Shay and I get to enjoy a glass of wine, or many, in Tel Aviv.  I look forward to the day when the world is a more peaceful place and we can find a way to all come together as he and I have, to make an impact instead of focusing on hate and war. I hope for more people to learn the lessons that I did in launching the community service club in high school – you don’t need an existing organization or affiliation, you can choose to do good and recognize the benefits of it for you and the community you are impacting. 

About the Author
Harper Spero is a business coach, community builder, storyteller, and the creator of Made Visible. After years of visiting Israel after Birthright, she made Aliyah in 2021 after falling in love with Tel Aviv. She's returned to New York City where she grew up but her heart remains in Israel.
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